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The Second Trial of Lattimus Virn


“One would think that something that is destined-to-be would be a little more fair,” Lattimus Virn shouted to his Other as they made their way through the tangling vines of Wenck that were pulling them in every direction.

“Perhaps fair doesn't always equal easy,” his Other returned.

“You're right, but fair shouldn't include strangling Wenck vines!” Lattimus concluded.

Upon the month of their birth in their eighth year, all of the children of Haumsnun face their Valoria, the life trials. Set in the maze of Guardeen, every child comes upon The 6 Trials of Valoria in the way that has always been. The Judges of Valoria set up 6 consecutive trials that each child may pass, or gain no welcome into adulthood. The fortunate few who pass are welcome to live their lives as they see fit. The unfortunate fade into The Vapor. This is the way it is done in The Wilting Lands, as it forever has been done, and shall be the way in which it is always done.

Lattimus Virn was never intended to pass The 6 Trials of Valoria. No child is. Instead, the series of puzzles, conquests, and life-or-death scenarios that play out in the giant maze that is Guardeen, is meant to vanquish the innocence of childhood, along with the children with it.

Somehow though, there are those who pass through the struggle, and somehow, life continues on.

Having barely survived the Wenck, Lattimus and his Other advanced to the Second Ring of Guardeen, the Vaurdisnockt, or The Darkened Tower. Perhaps Lattimus wouldn't even have survived that first trial if not for the presence of his Other, a spectral-like being created specifically by the Gods for each child, their only tool in the trials. Each Other was cast in light from the Gods, their take on a version of a child who would not survive childhood, far too innocent. It is then up to the child to seek guidance from a being who the Gods themselves don't believe have the wisdom to survive.

But Lattimus was quite fortunate to have his Other along for the journey, after the dangerous misstep he made in the first trial.

“Really good to have you back there, mate,” he said once he finally had the chance to catch is breath.

“I imagine. Let's just hope we can take some of that luck along with us, or we'll both be passed into The Vapor before the end of this,” his Other replied.

As the darkness faded to an even richer dark, and then still to a total blackness, the companions closed in closer together, Lattimus' shoulder passing straight through his Other's side. There would be no vision for a child at all, if not for the faint glow their Other inadvertently provided.

“This place just goes from one scary to another, doesn't it?” Lattimus asked, not particularly in need of an answer.

“THE DARKNESS IS THE LEAST OF YOUR CONCERNS,” a shrieking voice said, flying in from out of the blackness.

“WELCOME TO YOUR FINAL TRIAL, I AM YOUR JUDGE MADAME DEA. IF YOU SO CHOOSE, YOU CAN STEP TO YOUR LEFT AND FALL INTO THE PIT OF UNYIELDING DEPTH AND GIVE UP THIS HAPLESS VENTURE.”

Instinctively, both Lattiumus and his Other side-stepped to their right, though his Other was not hampered by the likes of gravity.

“Must you go on like that, like an angry harpy?” Lattimus said, recoiling.

“MY TONE SHOULD BE A WELCOMING TREAT, AND I'D IMAGINE YOU'D THINK SO, IF ONLY YOU COULD SEE THE TERRORS HANGING ALL AROUND YOU.”

This time, the companions took a giant step backward.

“YOU'RE WASTING MY TIME. YOUR IMPENDING DEATH IS AWAITING YOU ON THE LEFT, OR YOU MAY CHOOSE TO FIND THE SINGLE BIT OF LIGHT IN THIS ROOM, ATOP THE DARKENED TOWER. CHOOSE, BOY.”

“What light, what tower?” Lattimus shouted.

“FIND THE LIGHT, KEEP THE FIGHT. ENTER LEFT, WELCOME DEATH.”

And with that, silence ate up the dark.



“Do you see a tower, Other? Can you see anything that I can not?” Lattimus asked of his ghostly-friend.

“Not really Lattimus, the Gods did not intend for me to be a very worth-while guide, and thus my vision it seems is quite poor.”

“Figures,” Lattimus said, squinting his little-boy-eyes until darkness turned to further darkness.

Screams of children in peril took over the hall, from either below in the pit, or behind in the Guardeen, the light-less room robbing the pair of even further senses.

“We've got to get out of here,” Lattimus started. “We know we can't go left, do you think that means we can go any other way,” he asked his Other.

“I would like to think so.”



Having no vision, and with fear enough to cripple of Huffenhorse, Lattimus ventured into the dark, his Other wisely a foot or two advance of him. With every break in the floor, or obstruction observed by hand, the pair turned in another direction, always attempting to avoid making any “lefts”. Before long, a thing that must be the Darkened Tower was all that was before them.

“DON'T FOOL YOURSELF INTO BELIEVING YOU'LL MAKE IT LITTLE ONE. INNOCENCE DIES FOREVER AROUND YOU,” Madame Dea's voice stormed in, refusing to be forgotten.

“I have no choice Madame. I will not go left, nor will I be left behind,” Lattimus said with great vigor, his Other puffing up with courage, amplifying his glow.

“Other, what was that? You glowed incredibly bright just then. How did you do it?”

“Lattimus, I don't know! But I did, you're right! How could I do it again?”

“You're an innocent, Other, forever innocent really. And you would defend innocence as long as you could, is that correct?”

“Why yes I would.”

“Then what would happen if I threatened to jump into the left?”

“Don't you dare do that right now Lattimus Virn. Not while I'm here. No. You will not go left as long as I...” Other said, his words trailing off while his hue began to broadcast a tremendous light. The hall of The Darkened Tower illuminated, perhaps like never before, and it was quite true, innocence was dying all around them.

“Look!” Lattimus shouted, his eyes jumping from image to image.

Affixed to the hall's walls were pictures of happy children, safe children. Thousands of pictures surrounded the companions, smiling at them in full, joyful glow.

“All the smiles are lighting the candle in the tower! What does it mean?” Lattimus said.

“THERE ARE NO ANSWERS THAT WILL BRING YOU COMFORT LATTIMUS VIRN. I WOULD ADVISE YOU LOOK NO FURTHER,” Madame Dea taunted.

“Show yourself, you evil witch?! Where do you hide?” Lattimus screamed out.

“YOU WILL SEE ME. YOU WILL FACE ME WHEN YOUR TIME HERE IS DONE. YOU MAY HAVE LEARNED THE GLOW OF INNOCENCE, BUT BELIEVE ME, THE DARKNESS WILL RETURN AND YOU WILL BE LEFT ALONE.”

“I won't let you frighten me,” Lattimus returned, lying as best as he could.

With the floor now firmly in sight, and most importantly, the Pit of Unyielding Depth visible, Lattimus and his Other made their way around the now-lit Tower, and past the final obstacles before the exit.

The final picture on the wall was haunting.

“Other, is that...is that a picture of you, as a young boy?” Lattimus questioned.

“Why yes Lattimus, yes I suppose it is...”

The Third Trial of Lattimus Virn


Maybe it was the way the innocence hung on his 8-year-old face that saved him that day. Perhaps it was just luck. Lattimus Vern passed the third of his six trials by doing what any good young man would – he ignored the fact that he was the lessor. Most children don't know that the universe is mostly a wicked maze of monsters and gloom that they could, and likely should, succumb to at any moment. Lattiumus Virn, a typical human boy stood drenched in the shadow of his third judge, Watamo the Sullen and solved the unsolvable riddle.

“It is impossible to win, but winning is the only option. Escape your fate.”

Upon the month of their birth in their eighth year, most of all of the children who face their Valoria, their life trials, fail by the third tribunal, and their life is taken from them. The lucky few who pass are welcome to live their lives as they see fit. This is the way it is done in The Wilting Lands, and this shall be the way in which it is always done.

“I don't quite understand Master Watamo,” Lattiumus dug in, “how is one to succeed when there is no option of success?

The wised Barnabull raised his bushy eyebrows at the intriguing inquiry. So few children really grasped the reality of the riddle put before them.

“I suppose you wouldn't be satisfied if I told you everyone loses, but all are required to win,” Watamo bluffered.

“It just sounds like you're using different words to say the same thing, but you're not really saying anything, is that correct?” Lattimus pushed.

Watamo the Sullen, piqued by the veracity of the small boy before him, arched his enormous shoulders deep into his cage, his wings momentarily bending the un-bendable iron that provided both imprisonment and solitude.

“You're one of the good ones young man, do you know that?” he asked.

“I guess so, I'm just trying to figure it all out is all. None of you monsters make it easy.”

“Hmm. Yes, I suppose that is true. It's not a trial though if you're forever un-tested Lattimus. You'll be forever tested in The Wilting Lands. The world will punish you. It's creatures will hunt you. You yourself will likely concoct dangers in your every-day that will strike you down. And these perils are forevermore. Even when you've reached an age such as mine, and perhaps for you too they will lock you up in a manner to ward off The Unforgiven, to punish the un-punishable...even then you'll be tested. Our eternity is made up of each and every one of us, even The Being, looking up from the muck we're drowning in, and holding out a hand. Do you know what that hand says to anyone who might grab it Lattimus?”

“No sir.”

“That hand says “I seek salvation.” Trust in this though boy, even when we're pulled up out of those gutters of our own filth, there is no salvation to be had. Only more reaching.”

“So...we must live anyway. Is that correct sir? We must live even though we'll be forever seeking salvation?”

Watamo the Sullen, the aged Barnaball, sunk deep into his cage with tremendous relief.

“Yes Lattimus Virn. That is correct.”

Go Be Weird


It's hard to ignore the fortune-teller sitting cross-legged on my dining room table. Especially with all of that fur on his face. Looking like a miniature wolf-man, more precisely, Lon Chenay's character from The Island of Lost Souls, the hairy little fiend just shakes his head repeatedly.



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(above, a promotional picture of Lon Chaney from the film, Island of Lost Souls)

"Nope"

He can tell I'm dreaming again, I'm making big plans. Well, big for an anxiety sufferer.

“You're not going to follow through with those plans. Are you not mad? Don't even fool yourself.”

Who invited this guy into my head?
Who ever actually invites their subconscious to judge and mangle and tear asunder their goals and dreams? I'm not entirely certain, but here he is anyway. And here I go with the little monster on a one way trip to depression town.

I call him Bilch, for reasons even I find bizarrely natural. My therapist suggested the name Bill, which sounded fairly innocuous a name for the death-eater that is my own internal monologue. So I added the “ilch” because to my ears, that's the the perfect combination of letters to describe the toilet that sucks down all of the good ideas inside your head. “Illlllllllllch!!!!!!,” and there they go. Dreams go down the holllllle.

I know you can't hear him, reader, but do know he's over there in the corner talking bad about you. With exception of all of the harm he means to bring on, he doesn't mean any harm at all.

“You don't fit in. You don't look right. You are not one of them.”

Bear with me one moment, that's some fairly regular self-loathing I have to take on Line 1. And who am I to argue? He's probably right. I'm a Class A weirdo. There are probably about 78 cliches involving someone being one-of-a-kind, and they are all quite fitting, but you're tired of hearing them. They really threw away the mold when...well, you get the picture.

And forgive me Bilch, and you as well reader, but I think I feel a little rant coming on.

“Oh, go ahead. It's your mind really. From a certain point of view.”

How kind.

Just for a moment, if we take a deep breath together (go ahead), can't we all concede that we're all free to be a little weird inside? We're told to follow so many societal rules, and to never cross the line of any of the myriad of social TABOOS, as if we're all actors playing the exact same role. Who are we, Ooompa Loompas in the Chocolate Factory? Conform to the same clothes, attitudes, manner of speech and fancy green hair? That sounds normal?

Fuck that.

Go be weird.

Do you realize (and yes, I'm talking to myself here as well [“Oh! Okay, I wasn't certain.]) that we all should really be out there doing our own thing? In high school I wore white jeans, before, or indeed, after Labor Day, being woefully negligent to whatever Biblical law that was mandated to say you couldn't do such a thing. Who the hell cared? Were my bits and bum not covered? That my friends would have been taboo, even though we were born that way. I'm advocating for a weirdocracy, but not rampant nudity.

Speaking of Bibles, if you're into that sort of thing, do you truly believe, if you believe, that He created us, and intended us to be exactly the same, and all act one certain way, yet created us all intrinsically different from one another in the categories of size, shape, gender, maturity, color, smell, love of old monster cinema, and brain size? So no two of us are exactly alike, yet we're intended to all act exactly alike?

And for the atheists out there, do you truly believe, if you believe, in anything?

Just kidding. Do you really believe, if there is no higher power, that science and evolution created us all so uniquely, and we owe it to ourselves to pretend we're all the same?

“That does seem doubtful.”

See? Even Fur-Face agrees.

Why can't I just be me, do me, do the things that I do? Guess what, I can. And so can you. We don't have to all fit the same mold. Nor do we have to all be judged by one another.

This isn't a scientific study, merely an observation, but perhaps when we find ourselves pointing at others, mocking them, posting sly pictures of strangers online because they are "different", we're not really making a point to say,
"Hey, look how different that weirdo is," we're actually saying, "Look how insecure I am that I'm the same as everybody else."

People who are confident enough to do whatever they feel like, without choosing from "the approved menu" are likely more secure than people who need to mob up with others to build up their own ideals.

“I really have to say, I don't like where this is going.”

For you Bilch? It means you're going down your own drain.

And you, dear reader?

Go be weird.

Where it grows


It's an uneasy vision, that which lies before me. The un-afflicted, they'd say, “how serene”, but for those of us drowning in the sea of grass, it's the under-side of paradise.

The woozy feeling in my head, the idea that I'm uncertain whether I'm this way or that, or any way at all. That's the tell-tale sign of trouble. The drugs are supposed to make me feel better, but all I feel is like an old piece of furniture, perhaps something neglected in the rain.

The doctors wear no angel's wings, far too much money is bankrolled in the disease, but can I even trust them for a moment? Just one?

“Should I simply stay like this? Should I continue to lay where forgetful grass grows?”

I never ask.
And predictably, they never say.

In the field the grass engulfs me, like a mother's recently knitted blanket, and it all goes away.
I go away. For a moment there may be starlight, then again, darkness sweeps in. It goes like this at all times; a never ending wealth of supposed-comfort.

Not living at all is a poor excuse for the fear of living an anxious life.

I want to stop the drugs today. I think I'll attempt to wake up, shake the dew from off of my skin. I'll wander till I find a way out of this field, out of this garden of haze and forget, out of the wonderland to which is supposed to be my paradise.

I'll climb out of this grass.

I will find my way home.

Last Chance


I'll take another swing. 

Abigail’s Adventures in Anxietyland


If you really want to lose a girl, I don't think there's a quicker way than to tell her to, “get yourself together.” Really? Is that all? I don't know why I didn't think about it sooner. Thanks mom. She just didn't get it. She just never gets it. When I get super anxious and the walls start closing in, there is no magical off button. I sweat, I tremble, and don't even get my started on breathing. You'd have better luck swimming to the bottom of the ocean than to breathe during a panic attack. And yet there I was, imprisoned in the car with my mother, on the way to sign the paper work for her new house. Yes, her new house, not our new house or anything. My dad being gay has never been an issue in my family. It's always just been the norm. But now he thinks it'd be best if we “didn't dwell on dwelling together.” Yeah, usually I can find a redeeming quality in his cleverness, but as it related to destroying our family, I didn't quite have a laugh in me.

And that's how the summer before my junior year began. That's how I found myself trapped in my mother's car, breaking sound barriers to get to her house closing on time.

I could have been anywhere else in the world at that moment, but there I was, drowning in a panic attack my mother was gracious enough to gift me with, in exchange for me abetting the crime of tearing our family to shreds.

How was I supposed to just, “get myself together”? What's so hard to understand about a debilitating anxiety condition? You don't get to pass through it unfazed. If there is a hurricane coming, holding your puny umbrella out your bedroom window isn't going to spare you from disaster. That's the deal with living. You have to be together. That's why it's pain. If the human body actually possessed the ability to literally fall apart, the pain would go away in an instant. No, the highly advanced machinery that is the human body systematically finds a way to keep on living, even when your heart and mind feel like the world is coming to an end.

Getting yourself together isn't an option. You're never allowed to truly fall apart.

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vs. The First Phone Call.


“OHMYGOD, What do I say if someone else picks up and says she’s not home?” I worried to myself while the ringing phone stabbed my ear. As a budding teenager, calling a girl on the telephone for the first time had led me to break out my “worst case scenario” handbook in time to really panic myself before pressing my fingers to the digits. In my head, the end of the world actually could have been directly related to me sounding like a total goober on the phone. It didn't help that our phone was nuclear-bomb-button red, a fact I invented on the spot.

Just a few days prior, all was right with the universe. I'd gotten a phone number, from a real, live girl? It was like when the very first monkey found its banana. Glorious! I felt like a combination of John Wayne and Jesus, only with moderate acne and no super powers. Christina may not have been a beauty, but hey, she was alright. I may have been the mayor of a town full of losers, but I was setting up for my big win. What could go wrong? All that lay before me was my entire future, social life, holding hands, kissing, sex...wait, what the fuck was sex, and did I have to deal with it? Still, mostly glorious. I got the number.

For two solid days I sat staring at the crinkly, folded up piece of paper that was still at that point, both my Bible and Stephen King horror novel all at once. Countless attempts at picking up the receiver, dialing two digits, and hanging up quickly took place. Lot’s of “what if” thoughts came and went and then returned again like a bad case of the farts. With my foul-odor face firmly intact, I finally dialed all seven of the magical numbers. Clickety-clack, my heart started pounding to the beat of tire, mostly flat. Blood-curdling ringing ensued, and my very next thought hit me like a spastic hurricane; what if I had to speak to someone else? What's there to be said for a plan that doesn't exist? Commence nuclear countdown.

The sky immediately turned that end of summer rust color that alluded to either the true essence of beauty, or the devil coming home to roost. So much sweat bled from my pores that I instinctively reached for an oar to row my boat. Clearly, this was the defining moment of my young life. If I screwed this up, I might as well go live at the bottom of the sea of my sweat with all the other fishes who can't make phone calls. “What if she picks up, and I speak like a fish?” my brain screamed, just before things ultimately got worse.

Much to my own shock, I in fact did not, speak like a fish, or speak to someone other than the only girl that at that point I assumed would ever give me the time of day (4:27 p.m.).

No, much worse than any of that, Christina answered the phone, and I said:

Hi, this is Christina, is Brian home?”

BOOM.

Falling for Hitchcock’s Vertigo


What is it about a fall from grace that is so appealing to the voyeur's eye? We stand by so anxiously, breathless as the king slips from his diamond-studded throne. Perhaps it's the simple knowledge that anyone, even the whitest of knights can too lose everything, that draws a viewer in. Our idols of the silver screen seem so impenetrable; fortresses of strength and virtue. When they fall, our eyes are tied to their descent. As bystanders we stand by, waiting for the resurrection. To us, the audience, if these fantasy gods can fall the way we do, and rise back to the peaks to which they call home, maybe we can too. From dizzying heights to the bottom floor of an empty valley, we all go for the ride. In an instant, it is us playing the role of the fallen angel, with wings bruised, almost broken. We are one with the art now, and this film is our story. Tonight, we are Vertigo's Scottie, lost in a misty maze of turbulent emotions, and yes, we are falling from grace.

On the surface, Alfred Hitchcock's masterpiece Vertigo can be considered a love story, a murder mystery, and even perhaps a haunting, all at once. Jimmy Stewart's masterful performance as John “Scottie” Ferguson, a San Francisco police detective, ties together a tightly wound tale with ease. When a wicked bout of acrophobia leaves Ferguson in retirement, an old college acquaintance enlists the detective to follow his wife Madeline, who he fears suffers from mental delusions. She believes she is the living reincarnation of a dead woman. As Scottie tails the beautiful blond he does so naively, not realizing that he, and the viewer as well, will be spellbound by her gaze. An apparent suicide attempt by Madeline is thwarted by Scottie and the obsession kicks in. Holding on to the past is never a good plan for the future, and the mental maze that Vertigo's protagonist puts himself through seems to have no exit. The stakes and the heights both climb towards a pinnacle, and the tense thriller has no qualms about leaving its characters and captive audience, dizzy.

Alfred Hitchcock earned the moniker, “the master of suspense” because he was infinitely more interested in getting inside an audience's head, not content with simply entertaining in front of their eyes. Vertigo is a classic example of a flawed lead character, here in the case of Stewart's Scottie. After a sudden retirement, the decorated detective finds settling down a challenge, and he almost seems to welcome a fantastical adventure, following around a woman who believes she's the living ghost of a woman long gone. We see here in this timeless tale that obsession comes in multiple forms, and when one is stuck clinging to their past, they find it near impossible to carve out a future. The past, and its tantalizing promise hold Scottie down as he tight-rope-walks all over San Francisco, chasing a story that he likely should have questioned from the start. His fragile condition and his reliance on trying to be the successful detective of his youth, leaves him wide open to ignore the heights he'll need to climb to come through in the end. The vertigo the film deals with isn’t to do with space and falling; it is a clear, understandable and spectacular metaphor for yet another kind of vertigo, much more difficult to represent - the vertigo of time.” (A Free Replay, Notes on Vertigo, Marker, Chris) Before Hitchcock is done with his mind-trip, we'll see clearly that obsession is blinding, and the past is never as lovely as you recall. Vertigo successfully shows us that even the best of us can be flawed, and even the best of us can be too busy looking behind us, to see the dangerous perch we've climbed out onto. Regarding the film, famed critic Roger Ebert said: Vertigo, which is one of the two or three best films Hitchcock ever made, is the most confessional, dealing directly with the themes that controlled his art.”

Of all of the intriguing characters littered about Vertigo's San Francisco, one that is often overlooked is the role of Midge, played by Barbara Bel Geddes. Midge is Scottie's platonic partner in crime, though it's quite evident she'd love to be his object of obsession. Here is a woman devoted, loving, and easy to pin down. There's no chasing Midge all over town, and up into the California hills. No, Scottie's confidant is not only here, but she's here to stay. So desperate for his attention in the now, she stands by him while he continuously chases ghosts from his past. She is there while he is obstinate and depressed, not willing to move on with his life in retirement. She is also there while he runs off on a fools errand, following his friend's wife about town. In the end, she's still there after he has assigned the image of the friend's wife on a seemingly different woman, in hopes of holding on to the past. Midge is the rock that Scottie so desperately needs. Midge is the rational human, who doesn't for a minute believe a ghost from the past is taking over Madeleine Elster. She laughs at the idea.” (Hitchcock's Vertigo: One Viewer's Viewing, Holland, Norman) While he is in the past, or creating a supposed future out of the past, she is his now. Like the blindness that keeps his engine running, he also cannot see her standing there. Scottie may not find Midge to be the mystery that his obsessions are, Midge wears her purpose right out on her sleeve. She has no tolerance for playing games with the former detective, and lets him know upfront her wishes and desires. Perhaps it is that she is too forthcoming with goals, and with Scottie's head in clouds, he is too stubborn to see her. If Scottie is too preoccupied with the past, perhaps Midge is far too interested in the future.

Alfred Hitchcock was a master manipulator, and his camera work in Vertigo is especially telling when you analyze how technical aspects of the filming, coincide with the themes at hand. As Scottie gazes longingly at Madeline, Hitchcock's camera pushes into her face, much like how she draws Scottie in. The camera subsequently pulls back out, creating separation. You can't truly touch, or hold on to a memory, or a ghost. In this way, Hitchcock is playing his game, drawing you in, pushing you back out. This technique is also mirrored in the effect used to represent the feeling of Scottie's vertigo. The camera zooms in quickly, and then back out, a process repeated in fast succession. This is a bewildering yo-yo type of effect that the master director is also playing with his audiences. In his essay, Richard Allen states: This representation through camera movement and zoom of the experience of falling creates an effect that is precisely the opposite of the camera movement that brings into being Scottie’s relationship to Madeleine and the world of the film that mimes that relationship.” (Camera Movement in Vertigo) There are further technical clues scattered about the film as well. As Scottie drives through the hills of San Francisco, there are only shots of his car driving down the hills, none of him going up. This is the acrophobic, constantly driving, or falling, down. Our hero is falling from grace.

Film audiences go into the theater looking for projections of either who they see themselves as, or those whom they want to be. In Vertigo, we find a man many would likely admire. Midge certainly thinks the world of him. Scottie's fear of heights likely tie in to the fact that even the mightiest are prone to falling. Our eyes gaze up at the screen as he falls down, further and further, street by street, ghost by ghost. Our obsession with watching idols fall likely says a lot about us as well. Perhaps we stare so desperately at something that we know cannot hurt us, but still terrifies us deeply.

Ludo Creek, Nowhere


I don't know that the world was really craving slices of toast as a pizza topping. Our fascination with pizza toppings may have spun out of control. Toast is toast. Pizza is pizza. You don't need one for the other I wouldn't think. Nor duck either. Live duck at that. Yet, these hippstos on Main Street insist on anything that's in-ordinary. What's in is in, what's out is out, unless they feel like reversing that equation. Bunch of weirdos if you ask me. I don't know what got me to thinking about weird pizza. Maybe it's being in the in-between that is Ludo Creek. You want to talk about oddballs? Ludo Creek is like the bog that normality forgot. And that's by Billy Wylde standards. Which are pretty low. Ankle-high, maybe. Or just a toe.

“Billy, I'm worried about your Uncle Hary, and I really think you ought to go down to Flerda and make sure he's on the up and up,” Mother Mary told me. Yes, Uncle Hary with one “r”, as, “the other was lost in the war”. What war was never alluded to, I always just assumed it was the war of inconsequential consonants. And yes, “Flerda”, because my family has never really been great with actual words. Obviouso.

Florida is not a place one is ever prepared for, even people who live there likely evacuate for a day or two to re-think the idea of living one interstate exit off of the sun. There are two, well-documented ways in which Florida loses residents. One, obviously, old age. The second? Missing your exit and driving straight into the fiery ball in the sky. Both scenarios make it particularly perilous if you're an older person. Which everyone there is. The first time Mother Mary dragged me to Uncle Hary's, I was all of 4. When we got home from that trip I was 76. This is all just basic science, so sorry Flerda, you can keep your carrot juice, or whatever it is you're known for.

And don't get me started on that giant mouse who runs the state. Rodents. Eww.

Ludo Creek, Florida isn't actually on any map. Blinking and missing it really isn't an issue. Most just miss it. You'll hear about towns with only one stop light and such, but Ludo Creek doesn't even have that. It's a tiny bend in the river, and a bait shop/bar/laundromat run by Uncle Hary. He used to have a massage place in the back, but it got shut down when a client went missing. Word about town says it was an alligator.

Let me also say that if any of the words about your town include “possible gator involvement”, you don't want to be there. And like the old saying goes, gators speak louder than words.

The best part about being on an airplane is that one, tiny little flicker of a moment when you realize you are a man, or a man-like being, and you are now, in fact, flying. That's actually the second best part, as the first is actually that almost everyone on the plane pulls every trick in the library to fool their brain into thinking they are not actually soaring with squirrels. Drinks, drugs, naps, masks, crying babies. Everyone joins together with a lovely chorus of, “where the fuck am I, because I know can't really be here.” That's one of my favorites.

Reality (if you believe in such a thing) kicks in at just about the point when you do realize you're on an actual plane, and it is 8 feet off of the ground, and your entire survival is counting on a little rubber wheel. Ever want to feel yourself in a communal feeling? Be stuck in a tin can with 400 strangers, all realizing “this could be it”. Then come back and tell me about life!

So I came down to Florida, of course, at the whim of Mother Mary, as she couldn't tear herself away from her garden, or some such nonsense. I really think I got the cooked end of the deal. There's nothing raw in Florida, obvioso.

You can't get to Ludo Creek, or Uncle Hary's Bait, Bar, and Bras (cleaned) by car or bus or train. The second part of the adventure is renting boat and chugging down stream, to where the sun burns your eyes and you crawl on shore begging for forgiveness. If you've made it to the forgiveness-begging shore, someone will likely come out of the bar to check on you.

“First time in Flerda?” they'll go ahead and say, as you lie and bake and hope it's actually your last.

Once I stumbled into Hary's shop, and got whatever bearings I'm even capable of getting, a new reality (if you believe in that sort of thing) began to take over. Welcome to another world altogether. This is Ludo Creak.

Mernis Murnis is the first character my eyes awaken to meet. Dropped in directly from some fancy to-do of a day long gone, Mernis is dressed in a blood red, floor-length formal gown and wears a monocle. Yes, a monocle that only rich bankers, mad scientists, and one-eyed Jeffs typically wear. Around her neck is a snake that gives off a look as if to say, “questions be better not asked.” And I don't argue with snakes.

There is a fireplace (in Florida!) that looks as if it is only used in sacrifice rituals, and above it hangs a painting of dogs in war. Not playing poker, no. Dogs in a war, perhaps the one Hary lost his “r” in. As odd as I am, this place is just to the left of my alley.

“Wilhelm, my boy, why, aren't you a vision for a soul adrift at the sea of nonsense,” Uncle Hary welcomes, having apparently just escaped from a pirate film.

I'm served a local brew, aptly called Snogrottle, which is the exact sound you make as it dances down your throat. If I had to guess, it'll be the same sound one would make if Snogrottle where to come back up your throat. A grog by any other name, and all that jazz.

For the next few hours, I made home at the bar, making the acquaintances of Mernis of course, and other regulars like Old Timer the Mailman and Gorris, the former pro-wrestler. Snogrottle was toasted, everyone loved my talking lion story, and mirth was shared. Compared to typical life, this was definitely a most unusual song and dance.

What was Mother Mary so worried about? Uncle Hary was not only on the “up and up”, he was a little above that even. He just returned from some wild adventure where he, “procured the tongue of the only saber-tooth tiger left on main land.” What fun is that?

I likely gave Ludo Creek a bad rap, I really kind of like the weird place. It's not really attached to reality (if you, oh, who am I kidding?). So, I'm going to stay awhile, based off of my last conversation with Hary before sleeping in this Five Star hammock, how could I not?

Hary: Wilhelm, oh the sights, the sights I tell ya. What if I were to say that that gum you really liked was going to come back into style?

Billy: I'd say, I've either had one too many, or one too few Snogrottles.

Hary: This here, this isn't all there is to it. Think beyond ye notions. I ought to take you back to my Museum of the Weird. We've collected a lot that might fancy a young boy like you.

Billy: Wait, this isn't the weird museum? It gets weirder? Hogbath. Hogshower. What is that saying?

Hary: Get some sleep boy. Tomorrow you're going to where time isn't kept.

Billy: HOGWASH!

So yeah, welcome to Ludo Creek. I'm going to be here awhile. Flerda, well, here in this mysterious corner of it, isn't so bad. It's like, a small collection of bizarre, coolness. Maybe it's the Snogrottle talking. But Ludo Creek is like, I dunno, a box of platypuses.

Lost at Sea, With Bill Murray


At this point I'm not really certain if it's my dreams that are getting weirder, or that I'm getting weirder before I have my dreams. Trying to nail down the answer to that is like hammering nails into invisible walls. You just keep looking for the perfect spot, but it doesn't exist. There are no spots.

I'm on the cruise ship again. Always with the cruise ships. There are two main dreams I seem to have, the cruise ship, of course, and the one where I neglect to take care of our cat. I'm always letting him drown, or leaving him deserted somewhere. Neglectful pet-owner dreams might just be the worst.

I realize I'm chasing tangents when World Famous Actor and Sage Bill Murray arrives.

“Well, this was bound to happen,” he calmly shares. “Never tell your agent you want to work in existential, thought provoking work. You wind up with a part in a dream sequence”

What induces a dream, on a cruise ship, with your late grandmother, and the dry-hilarity of Bill Murray?

Something missing in my heart or mind, I assume.

“You're staying on the ship, Bill Murray?” I ask, as if this isn't the oddest of the odd.

“I suppose. But when adrift in an endless ocean, you can't really be choosy,” he replied.

Fair point.

As often as I dream about being on board a cruise ship, I never have a particular port of call. I'm just always at sea, and have been, far past my original return date. Aimlessly drifting I suppose.

Renowned comedian and party host, Bill Murray and I wander from deck to deck, through the catacombs of the ship, with no particular purpose. He's dressed to the gills in a one of a kind tuxedo, his hair left in a manner to give the impression it was never dealt with in the first place. Untouched issues are likely going to be a theme of this particular jaunt across the sea of my subconscious.

“You don't really have to be someone's favorite, you know. Even if you're one person's pride and joy, that leaves what, everyone else in the universe to possibly dislike you? That's just bad math.”

Bill Murray brings up a good point. My Nan was basically my second mother, best friend, and teacher for a fair portion of my life. I was an only child, and only had one cousin growing up, but he was plagued with illness. So, my Nan had one center of attention, and it was me. The Brian Show. Spoiled is, as spoiled does, or something to that effect.

“It's a shame the breakfast buffet ends at 11, don't you think? So fleeting,” Bill Murray ponders.

My mom and my Nan didn't get along too well during my childhood. In fact, my stepfather did all he could to keep her out of our lives, and when that didn't work? He tried to get me into Nan's life and out of my parents.

“Can't have sausage links all day, I suppose.” Bill Murray says with a shrug.

Once I was an adult, and making my own choices, both foolish and wise, Nan and I kind of drifted apart. Once you started getting married, and procreating, your focus shifts and you miss some details as people move in and out of your life. I felt the distance between my grandmother and I, but I never really tried to figure out why it was there between us.

“See that seagull? The fish he's looking for isn't in this ocean,” Bill Murray waxes.

Into my thirties, with a divorce, and a daughter given up for adoption under my belt, my mom and I actually grew quite close. It was almost as if by that point, we'd both survived similar circumstances and could share tales from the battlefield.

Mom too, was once Nan's favorite. At least until my uncle Lary came along. He lived in the spotlight for a few years, until a lovely niece came into Nan's life, who ended up taking the throne for a bit. Yes, it was true, Nan loved the idea of taking the new bouncing baby and spoiling them rotten, and making them her own. Which is fine. Having a mother figure lauding about you with no end has its perks. But when a new “chosen one” came along, another in a long line of disappointed and passed over came to be.

“That's just like Hamlet. No one remembers that I was in Hamlet once,” Bill Murray says.

We're on the top deck again, having paced the length of the ship a number of times. I'm a student of film, so dreams aren’t quite linear or succinct enough for me. But that's okay. I finally see land on the horizon. We drift closer and closer to the little strip of land in the distance. I can finally start making out details, like the little girl on the shore, waving as the cruise ship sails by. I feel haunted by her. Threatened.

“Wes Andersen could have shot that shot. Picture perfect. Did you see the one with the foxes? Fantastic.”

I ignore Bill Murray as the little girl grows before my eyes, into a teenager, a young woman, and then, nothing. The girl is gone.

“I was a badger. Great stuff. Quirky.”

I realize now that that little girl is Katelyn. And there was a time when she was my daughter. I don't know if I can still say that she ever was now. She has a new family. I don't need to have ever existed.

Suddenly, it's all gone. The ocean, the vessel, the strip of island with Katelyn. There is nothing now. Star of stage and screen, Bill Murray forever lingers.

“We should do that again some time. But I suppose now, you don't have. You ended the cycle. It's up to you to figure out if that was a good thing or not. But listen, don't beat yourself up. I was in Garfield. It all works out.”

Nan wanted desperately to shine a light on Katelyn, to put her on a pedestal, make her her own. And I...ruined that. I made one of the hardest decisions that a man can make, did what was right at the time. I made the best choice for my daughter. I believe that. But Nan was never going to see it that way.

In the end, she had no one to spoil, no one to live for. I know that her final years were not happy ones. I also know we all have a choice in life, to live happily or unhappily. Yes, a certain amount of good and bad will fall into our lives, but we can be truly happy, if we seek out the joy that's there. I didn't produce that joy for my Nan in the end. And I have to be okay with that. A person can only do so much, for themselves, and for those around them.

I will create my own happiness.

But I will not be responsible for those who don't choose to do the same.

Bill Murray suddenly breaks character, “The crowd is just on its feet here. He's a Cinderella boy. Tears in his eyes, I guess, as he lines up this last shot. He's got about 195 yards left, and he's got a, looks like he's got about an 8-iron. This crowd has gone deadly silent... Cinderella story, out of nowhere, former greens-keeper, now about to become the Masters champion. [swings, pulverizes yet another flower] It looks like a mirac- it's in the hole! It's in the hole!”

I love my Nan, and all she ever did for me, so incredibly much. But I'm okay. I'm just fine. It's my life, and I just do my best.

Crazy dreams and all.

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